Victims of crime are soon to be given the legal right, “to tell a court how their lives have been affected”, under a new law to be announced by Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling. Current guidelines on how the criminal justice system should treat victims of crime will be replaced by the provision of ‘stringent’ legal guarantees.
Considered an issue long overdue for reform, by March 2015 the experience of crime victims during a trial hearing is to be dramatically improved by the creation of a new support system. According to Grayling, “For the first time the intention is to put the highest emphasis on victims’ needs and set out their rights clearly in legislation.”
The first step will see a new and easy to use online source of information and helpline, which will provide crime victims with up-to-date progress on their cases, applications for compensation, knowing what to expect in court, and understanding the range of support available to them.
A proposal for victims of crime to receive early compensation is also being considered in the longer term.
A second component to the reform of the courtroom experience for victims, particularly in cases of rape or serious sex offences will involve barristers receiving specialist victim training before a case proceeds. Law courts will also be renovated to create separate waiting areas for victims and defendants.
The separation and safeguarding of child witnesses is also a key concern of the government. There is to be an extension of a current pilot scheme, which ensures children are cross-examined away from court before a trial begins. Their evidence will be filmed and later shown on video during the proceedings.
If successful, the scheme will apply to all child witnesses by the end of 2017 and may also be extended to include vulnerable adult witnesses.
Mr Grayling said: “Our criminal justice system can be daunting, and victims, especially the most vulnerable, can find it traumatic and difficult to know where to turn to for advice and support.”
The chief executive of the charity Victim Support, Mark Castle also agreed: "Children and other vulnerable victims and witnesses should not have to face the trauma of giving evidence in a court building, unless they choose to."
"Putting victims' rights in law sends a clear message to police, prosecutors and the courts that addressing the needs of victims is central to their work - it cannot be an optional extra.”